Travis Etienne

Clemson vs. LSU: Ranking six NFL draft prospects 49ers should watch

Clemson vs. LSU: Ranking six NFL draft prospects 49ers should watch

There were moments to hold your breath, but in the end, the 49ers made easy work of the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday in their NFC divisional-round playoff game. 

San Francisco now faces Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday, and are one win away from Super Bowl LIV in Miami. And while The Faithful is dreaming of sunshine and palm trees already, the 49ers' front office will have their eyes on a talent-laden college game. 

When two undefeated Tigers look to tame each other Monday in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game, there will be a plethora of NFL draft talent between Clemson and LSU. As the 49ers keep winning, however, their draft slot keeps sliding. 

For a team without many holes on its roster, the 49ers should still be able to find talent near the end of the first round. If prospects from this season's national championship fall to them in April, general manager John Lynch will be grinning from ear to ear. 

Here are six prospects, ranked by fit, that the 49ers should have their eyes on in this year's natty. 

6. Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson

Running back could actually be a bigger need than wide receiver for the 49ers in 2020. No, you didn't read that wrong. And no, this coffee isn't Irish. 

Tevin Coleman carried the 49ers past the Vikings, but the five-year veteran has no guaranteed money on his contract next season. Matt Breida is a restricted free agent and it sure seems likely the front office moves on from Jerick McKinnon, who has missed the last two seasons with injuries after signing a four-year, $30 million contract in March 2018.

That leaves just Raheem Mostert, who broke out this season at 27 years old. With his speed and versatility, Etienne could be a great compliment to Mostert, who still serves as a special teams star. 

Etienne has combined for 3,194 yards rushing yards the last two seasons and 48 total touchdowns. Oh, and he has game-changing speed. 

Shanahan could get the very best out of Etienne. Teams will vary their opinions on the explosive running back, but it's easy to see why he could thrive on the 49ers.

5. Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU

The 49ers could have a really interesting decision to make if Jefferson is on the board at the end of the first round. With so much receiver talent in this year's class, that could easily happen, too. 

As a junior this season, Jefferson turned into an absolute star. He hauled in four touchdowns in the Peach Bowl and has 18 on the year. The 6-3 target can play inside or outside, though he really thrived when he turned into a long slot receiver. 

Does coach Kyle Shanahan tell Lynch to make Jefferson his newest toy? Or does Lynch tell the coach the 49ers have bigger needs? 

Jefferson's spot in the draft will be really interesting. Another big game against Clemson will only help his stock.

4. A.J. Terrell, CB, Clemson

Don't throw the ball to Terrell's side. Raiders second-round pick and former Clemson Tiger, Trayvon Mullen, looks like a quality starter for years to come. Terrell might be better. 

Terrell, 6-1 and 190 pounds, is rangy and knows how to use his hands as a physical corner in stride. He doesn't shy away from contact and invites QBs who wish to challenge him. 

There's no doubt Terrell should be mentioned with Kristian Fulton (see below). He might fall further than the LSU Tiger, but this Clemson corner is a stud.

3. Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU

Richard Sherman is a baller. That was true five years ago, and still is today at 31 years old. But Sherman can only cover one side of the field. 

As 49ers fan saw the past two weeks, in the two biggest games of the year, Ahkello Witherspoon sure doesn't look like the answer in Year 3. Emmanuel Moseley is solid, but he also is far from a star. 

Fulton, however, could be a shut-down corner at the next level. He played a bit banged up this season, yet still had 13 passes defensed. 

It seems likely Fulton will be gone by the time the 49ers are selecting, but another top corner could still be on the board in Terrell.

2. Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson

Stop me if you've heard this before, but the 49ers need help at wide receiver. 

Rookie Deebo Samuel already is a real weapon in Kyle Shanahan's offense and looks like a future, versatile star. Kendrick Bourne was the highest-graded 49ers offensive player in their playoff win over the Vikings, according to Pro Football Focus, but isn't a No. 1 option. 

Higgins can be. At 6-4, 215 pounds, Higgins has ideal NFL size as an outside threat. And he can make catches like this. 

And this.

The 49ers need a game-changer on the outside. In a deep receiver class, Higgins could be around late into Day 1. If he's there, Lynch needs to make him a Niner.

1. Grant Delpit, S, LSU

The draft always is unpredictable, but it seems highly unlikely if Delpit hasn't been taken by the time the 49ers are on the clock. That doesn't mean he isn't the best fit, though. 

Delpit is the top safety in the draft and a top-10 talent. The 2019 Thorpe Award winner is 6-foot-3, 203 pounds and has plenty of Derwin James in him. 

Now that we know Robert Saleh will return to the 49ers, the defensive coordinator could have a lot of fun with a player who can do this: 

[RELATED: 2020 NFL mock draft: 49ers, Raiders picks before national title]

Jimmie Ward will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason. The defense is completely different with Jaquiski Tartt. Pair him with Delpit, and the 49ers would have a dangerous duo at the back of their defense. 

Why Raiders should stick to NFL draft blueprint, raid Clemson-LSU stars

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Why Raiders should stick to NFL draft blueprint, raid Clemson-LSU stars

On its face, the plan seemed quite simple.

Raiders general manager Mike Mayock and coach Jon Gruden went down to Levi's Stadium last January to watch Clemson and Alabama duel in the 2019 College Football Playoff National Championship Game. What they found were rosters loaded with NFL talent who had been immersed in winning culture for the past three to five seasons. They found a featured back with don't-give-a-[redacted] attitude, a shutdown corner with tireless work ethic, a slot receiver with hands of gold and an unflappable clutch gene, and an edge rusher with all the tools and confidence to be the anchor of a defensive line.

The Raiders loved what they saw and acted accordingly three months later in the NFL draft, making Josh Jacobs, Trayvon Mullen, Hunter Renfrow and Clelin Ferrell the newest members of the Silver and Black and the foundation of a rebuild that eventually will bring the greatness back.

Gruden and Mayock's plan to draft talented players from winning programs might have seemed like an elementary idea. Did they only watch the two best teams in football? There are, after all, many other talented players who weren't on teams vying for a title.

[RELATED: 2020 NFL mock draft 1.0: Raiders go WR, LB in Round 1]

No matter. The plan to bring in elite players from programs with strong culture worked flawlessly last season. Jacobs, Renfrow, Mullen and Ferrell were key contributors to a 7-9 Raiders team that could have made the playoffs if not for a few hiccups.

As Gruden and Mayock look to stack talent on talent, they should go back to that blueprint and jot down name after name that is called when No. 1 LSU and -- you guessed it -- No. 3 Clemson meet in the 2020 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.

Once again, the NFL talent on the field will be off the charts. But both teams also have a number of prospects who will fit the Raiders' vast number of needs as well.

Yes, if Clemson linebacker/safety/athletic mutant Isaiah Simmons is available at No. 12 (he won't be), the Raiders should draft him. Yes, receivers Tee Higgins (Clemson) and Justin Jefferson (LSU) would look good catching passes from whoever the quarterback of the future is for the Silver and Black.

There will be potential secondary help all over the field. Not just in first-round talents Grant Delpit, Kristian Fulton and A.J. Terrell, but also in Clemson safety K'Von Wallace, who could be a late Day 2 or Day 3 pick for the Raiders to target.

Don't count out the Raiders looking at taking one of the two running backs in the game, either, to have another young, electric option behind Jacobs, as both Travis Etienne and Clyde Edwards-Helaire would form a ridiculous 1-2 punch along with Jacobs.

It's not just the 2020 prospects the Raiders should note, either. Yes, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence will be next year's No.1 pick. Mayock and Gruden also should have their eyes on LSU receiver Ja'Marr Chase, Clemson wideout Justyn Ross, LSU defensive tackle Tyler Shelvin, Clemson edge rusher Xavier Thomas and LSU corner Derek Stingley Jr. all of whom are underclassmen with elite talent.

Last year's blueprint was successful for the Raiders. The talent was needed, but the attitude and culture shift Gruden and Mayock craved clearly took hold. The Raiders, led by their rookies, were resilient against all odds last season. They believed they should have been in the playoffs. The rookies were their harshest critics. They worked tirelessly, performed on Sundays and believe they are the start of something special.

[RELATED: Ranking draft prospects Raiders should watch in Clemson-LSU]

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney summed up his program, the players he looks for and the culture he's built -- something the Raiders were very attracted to and for good reason -- in a succinct way.

"It’s easy to see if a guy can play or not, it’s a lot tougher to see if he’s the right fit. Because not everybody is a good fit for our culture and who we are," Swinney told NBC Sports California in August. "And the way we do things. Because this place is tough, man, this is no-nonsense. Not everybody values education the way we do. Not everybody values discipline and accountability the way we do."

While no two cultures are alike, the one Ed Orgeron has built at LSU appears to be on the same level as his counterpart Monday night. It quickly has taken hold and put the Tigers on the precipice of a dream season. Both coaches are brilliant and demand a lot of their players both on and off the field. They recruit talent, yes. But they also recruit for character and locker-room fit.

Those are the guys you win with at any level. The guys you build programs around and who can change the tides just by walking into the building. Talent is important. It almost always wins out in the end. But when enacting a rebuild, the culture the players were molded in is equally as significant.

Mayock and Gruden got a handful of those players in last year's draft. That blueprint worked to perfection.

The Raiders should follow it again. Raid Death Valley (both of them) of talent and leadership to build an unshakeable foundation for the next era of Raiders football.

Clemson vs. LSU: Ranking seven NFL draft prospects Raiders should watch

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Clemson vs. LSU: Ranking seven NFL draft prospects Raiders should watch

Another giant NFL draft faces Jon Gruden, Mike Mayock and the Raiders in April.

After hitting a home run in their first draft together, the Silver and Black must layer another solid class on top of last year's to set them up for what Josh Jacobs and Co. believe can be a dynastic run.

There will be a number of elite NFL prospects on the field Monday night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium when the No. 1-ranked LSU Tigers face the No. 3-seeded Clemson Tigers in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game. 

The Raiders have needs at wide receiver, cornerback, safety, running back and linebacker, many of which could be filled by players vying for the title in New Orleans.

Here are seven prospects for the Raiders to watch Monday night, ranked from best fit on down. (LSU quarterback Joe Burrow and Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons are not listed, despite their obvious fit, because they are not expected to be available when the Raiders pick.)

7. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB, LSU

Much like Etienne, Edwards-Helaire fits the modern-day running back mold perfectly. He's great at catching the ball out of the backfield with a stellar combination of good route-running and solid hands.

The LSU back has great power and agility making him difficult to bring down. He's another later round guy for the Silver and Black to look at to compliment Jacobs.


6. Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson

Running back? But the Raiders just took Jacobs, the likely Offensive Rookie of the Year. Yes, and when Jacobs got hurt and they had to turn to DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard, the run game fell off.

The Raiders would be smart to look at guy like Etienne, who likely will go in the third or fourth round. He's a powerful runner who is a weapon in the passing game with his game-breaking speed.

Having a Jacobs-Etienne backfield would be the stuff of nightmares for teams to defend.

His ability to go from zero to 60 his unreal.

[RELATED: 2020 Mock draft 1.0: Raiders projections ahead of LSU-Clemson]

5. Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU

Fulton is this low, not because he lacks talent, but because he might not even make it to the Raiders at No. 12. He certainly won't make it to No. 19 overall.

He's a smart corner with good coverage skills. His ability to close on routes and read coverage trees to create leverage positions. He must get better tackling and timing jump balls to be more of a factor in 50/50 balls.

He, like Terrell, would be great on the other side of Mullen.

4. Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU

The Raiders need more than one receiver to revamp their offense.

Higgins would be a nice start, but being able to snag a guy like Jefferson would be a big win.

The LSU star has great body control and is a polished route-runner who has the ability to adjust his route on the fly to beat man coverage. Jefferson, 6-foot-3, 192 pounds, is great at making contested catches. He has exploded onto the scene as LSU's revamped passing attack has allowed his talent to shine through. He has the ability to play outside and in the slot. His versatility would be something Gruden would love to scheme ways to take advantage of.

Jefferson is shooting up draft boards, so the Raiders might have to find a way to jump into the second round to snag him, but he would be well worth it.

3. K'Lavon Chaisson, Edge, LSU

Yes, the Raiders still need help getting after the quarterback. Maxx Crosby was a nice surprise and Clelin Ferrell is set up for an improved sophomore season.

But the Raiders need to add more pass-rushing juice. Chaisson is the perfect prospect for defensive coordinator Paul Guenther's defense.

He has an elite blend of athletic traits that make him the type of edge prospect scouts dream about. He has broad shoulders and oily hips. He's explosive in transition and uses his athleticism to make up for what he lacks in length. LSU has moved him all over their defensive sets and his versatility is something Guenther would love to play with.


2. A.J. Terrell, CB, Clemson

The Raiders grabbed a shutdown corner in the second round last year in Trayvon Mullen. His defensive backfield-mate at Clemson would be a nice fit on the other side of the field. 

No, corner isn't the Raiders' most pressing need, but Terrell and Mullen combined to form one of the best cornerback duos in recent college football history last season, Just ask Tua Tagovailoa how hard it is to move the ball against a secondary anchored by Mullen and Terrell.

Terrell is long and rangy at 6-foot-1. He has elite coverage skills, fits great in both press and man schemes and thrives at disrupting the ball at the point of attack. He has great instincts but does need to work on his ability to read the quarterback's eyes and not have his aggressiveness used against him.

He has yet to allow more than 60 yards against him this season.

[RELATED: Raiders should follow draft blueprint, raid title game]

1. Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson

After Antonio Brown turned in his NFL card to be an aspiring rapper, the Raiders' offense struggled to make big plays in the passing game.

Rookie Hunter Renfrow and tight end Darren Waller were dynamite, but the Silver and Black need a big body to be a threat on the outside, no matter who the quarterback is. 

Higgins, 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, is adept at using his size to his advantage. He has great ball-tracking skills on nine routes and is able to use his range to snag off-target throws and win 50/50 balls. Higgins averaged 20.8 yards per catch and was Pro Football Focus' highest-graded Power 5 receiver.

Gruden should be salivating over the thought of Higgins in Silver and Black.

Higgins might be putting on a Raider hat when they go on the clock at No. 12 overall.